HC Deb 16 May 1962 vol 659 cc1316-20
7. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Defence what agreement he reached at Athens with the United States Secretary of Defence on the distinction between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.

Mr. Watkinson

It did not fall to the Athens Conference to discuss this question. It was to deal with this kind of problem that we wanted the N.A.T.O. Nuclear Committee set up.

Mr. Rankin

Is it not the case that nowadays there is very little difference between the tactical and the strategic nuclear weapon? Was the American Secretary of Defence not rather perturbed, therefore, by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was making the Army of the Rhine dependent on the tactical nuclear weapon? Did he not fear that that would merely encourage the claims of President Adenauer and President de Gaulle not only for the possession but also for the control of the tactical nuclear weapon which we are now going to attain when Blue Water comes along?

Mr. Watkinson

The real truth of the matter is that all the members of the Alliance have, for a considerable time, been disturbed about the general kind of argument that goes on—in public and in private—about, for example, tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. I agree that the definition is more related to the target than to the weapon. We in N.A.T.O. feel that it is high time that we tried to bring greater precision into this and to tidy up this situation. That is why the N.A.T.O. Nuclear Committee was set up. I think that it can do a very useful job and I hope that out of this and the general discussions in the N.A.T.O. Council will come a much clearer line of action; for example, on the differentiation between the different types of weapons and on the best means of using the weapons themselves.

9. Mr. Fletcher

asked the Minister of Defence if he will now state the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the control, direct or indirect, by West Germany over nuclear weapons or weapons with a nuclear capacity.

11. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Defence what is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the control, whether directly or indirectly, by the West German Government over the use of nuclear weapons.

18. Mr. Reynolds

asked the Minister of Defence what steps were taken or contemplated at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Council meeting in Athens to provide stocks of British or United States manufactured nuclear weapons to France, to the Federal Republic of Germany or any other non-nuclear power within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Mr. Watkinson

As stated by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on 18th December last year, Her Majesty's Government would, in accordance with the resolution for which the United Kingdom voted in the United Nations on 4th December, be opposed to the relinquishment of control of nuclear weapons to any non-nuclear State. No proposals for giving Federal German forces independent control of nuclear warheads are under consideration, and there are no proposals for changes in the present arrangements for providing N.A.T.O. forces with nuclear warheads.

Mr. Fletcher

In view of the rather ambiguous statement the Minister made last week, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will now confirm that what he has just said means that Her Majesty's Government will not be a party to any proposal to give West Germany control, direct or indirect, over nuclear weapons?

Mr. Watkinson

That is exactly what this Answer says.

Mr. Allaun

But if the West German generals are now to be given, as I understand they are, details of where the weapons and the warheads are stored—and since their targets and also their use is, I understand, to be simplified in an emergency—is this not yet another step towards giving these gentlemen control over their use? Is the Minister aware that most people in this country would not trust these people with water pistols, let alone weapons of this kind?

Mr. Watkinson

The hon. Gentleman is making an incorrect assumption of what N.A.T.O. is trying to do. As to nuclear warheads, they remain in the custody of the United States Government, under a well-recognised procedure. All that the N.A.T.O. Nuclear Committee is trying to do in an alliance of equal nations is to give every nation some reasonable knowledge about what part it should play in the nuclear defence side of the Alliance. This seems necessary in order to strengthen the Alliance.

Mr. Reynolds

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that part of his statement which referred to nonnuclear Powers refers exactly to the Republic of France?

Mr. Watkinson

I think that the hon. Gentleman must put that Question down if he wants a considered answer.

Mr. Reynolds

It is exactly the Question I have down, which deliberately includes France.

Mr. Watkinson

Well, I think that in this case—and I am not seeking to evade the issue—the House will understand that I must try to be careful and precise in answering on such an important matter. All I am saying is that if one judges that France is today a nuclear Power, then she would not be covered by my Answer.

Mr. Grimond

While welcoming the Government's desire to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, may I ask whether they do not find it some embarrassment to them that while they are urging some countries not to have nuclear weapons they are themselves determined to remain an independent nuclear Power?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not think that that follows at all, because one has only to take the current attitude of France to nuclear Powers—on which I do not propose to comment one way or the other—to see that any action by Britain would have singularly little effect or influence in this direction.

15. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of Defence what arrangements he has made to employ British strategic nuclear weapons in the event of a threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation beyond the capability of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation committed forces to deal with, having regard to paragraph 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Press Release M1(62)4 for distribution 6th May, 1962.

Mr. Watkinson

The assurance given by Her Majesty's Government to N.A.T.O. about the use of British strategic nuclear forces calls for no changes in our operational planning.

Mr. Cronin

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House definitely whether he appreciates that this is a very dangerous doctrine which is implied in the communiqué, which advocates the use of strategic nuclear weapons when conventional forces are expected to contain a conventional attack?

Mr. Watkinson

What the communiqué says is that an assurance has been given by the United States and by Britain that any nuclear targets which cannot be looked after by N.A.T.O. committed forces will be looked after by the strategic forces of those two countries. I entirely agree with that.